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Commentaires écrits par
Jennifer Cameron-Smith "Expect the Unexpected" (ACT, Australia)
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   

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At the Water's Edge
At the Water's Edge
by Sara Gruen
Edition: Hardcover
Prix : CDN$ 20.00
3 used & new from CDN$ 20.00

3.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘The murder of crows descended in a noisy fluster, settling in a row on the stone wall, ..’, May 27 2015
This review is from: At the Water's Edge (Hardcover)
After their performance at a New Year’s Eve party in 1944, Madeline (Maddie) Hyde and her husband Elllis find themselves cut off financially by Ellis’s wealthy parents. Ellis’s father, a former army colonel, is ashamed of Ellis’s inability to serve in the military because he has been diagnosed with colour blindness. Ellis and his extremely wealthy best friend Hank (who can’t serve either because of his diagnosis of flat feet) decide to travel to Scotland to hunt down the Loch Ness monster. They seem to think that this will enable them to regain the Colonel’s favour. Why? Because the Colonel had attempted to prove the existence of the monster years earlier, in an attempt that ended in public humiliation.

So, Maddie, Ellis and Hank travel by ship across the Atlantic and end up in the village of Drumnadrochit where they soon find neither accommodation nor food is to their liking. The locals have directly suffered the ravages of war, and have little time for these three privileged outsiders.

While Ellis and Hank try to find and film the monster, Maddie is left behind at the inn. Slowly, she steps outside her usual privileged world and gradually makes friends with some of the locals. As she does so, Maddie becomes aware that life is full of possibilities. But what about Ellis and Hank?

I have mixed views about this novel. Notwithstanding the desire to track down the Loch Ness monster, I had difficulty accepting the proposition that three selfish young Americans would have travelled across the Atlantic to the UK in early 1945. While I enjoyed aspects of the Scottish side of the story, it was all a little too dramatic and romantic for me. And the ending? Well, it didn’t work for me, it was far too neat. But you enjoy romantic escapism and you don’t mind improbably neat endings and then you may well enjoy this novel more than I did.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Shooting Star
Shooting Star
Prix : CDN$ 9.99

4.0 étoiles sur 5 The security system guarding the home of Pat Carson, patriarch of the Carson dynasty,, May 24 2015
This review is from: Shooting Star (Kindle Edition)
.. began with a three-metre-high boundary wall.'

Frank Calder, ex-soldier and ex-cop, now describes himself as a mediator. Calder takes a phone call inviting him to the Carson family compound outside Melbourne. Here he meets Pat Carson and his sons Barry and Tom. Frank is known to the Carsons: he's worked for them before in a situation involving hostages. So, when Tom's granddaughter Anne, aged 15, disappears on the way home from school and the family receives a ransom demand, they turn to Calder again. Calder wants them to call in the police, but this is not the first kidnapping in the Carson family, and last time, when they called in the police things did not go well. This time around, the Carsons are keen to do exactly what the kidnapper has asked for. Once they get Anne back, they plan on dealing with the kidnapper themselves.

The family want Calder to deliver the $1 million dollar ransom. Despite his reservations, Calder agrees. But Frank wants to try to find out what has motivated Anne's kidnapping and soon finds himself caught up in the history of the dysfunctional Carson family. Is Anne's kidnapping related to the earlier kidnapping of Barry's granddaughter Alice (then aged 11)? Is the kidnapping motivated by greed, or revenge? Or something else?
To try to find answers, Calder goes way beyond his brief. Which puts both him and Anne in danger. Will Anne be found alive?
I enjoyed this novel. The story moves along at a rapid rate, and Frank Calder is a very likeable character. Like many large, wealthy dysfunctional families, the Carsons have plenty of hidden skeletons in their closets. I liked the way that Calder went about uncovering these skeletons in his search for answers.

This is the third of Peter Temple's novels I've read so far. The rest are on my list.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Miles of Post and Wire
Miles of Post and Wire
Prix : CDN$ 19.97

4.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘I had no idea who I was and I didn’t have a birth certificate.’, May 23 2015
Florence (‘Flo’) Corrigan’s memoir is inspirational. It is also testament to aspects of life in Australia which many of us would prefer not to think about. Born in the early 1930s, Flo spent her childhood in temporary camps in the rough and remote Pilbara region of Western Australia. Flo looked after her siblings in those temporary camps while her parents eked out a living prospecting, fencing, and killing wild dogs. Eking out a living did not include fresh fruit and vegetables, education, or shoes.

As a teenager, with very little money in her pocket, Flo left her family. Her abusive father told her never to return. Flo made a life for herself, and then for her own family, through her determination and hard work. She worked as a fencer and as a horsewoman, as a dogger, a roo skinner, a goat hunter and as a cook. Flo learned that she was of Aboriginal descent during her thirties when she became a mother. It was then that she discovered that her birth had not been registered.

‘In those days, I could get killed and nobody’d know who I was because there’d be no registered name. I was an alien in my own country.’

Flo set about finding the truth of her own family – a difficult task given that her parents had given her so little information. Through tragedy – her husband died of asbestosis – Flo continued to find out about herself and her family. She taught herself literacy and, well after she retired, bought her first house.

It’s difficult reading Flo’s story, reading of the hardships she endured, and the reminders of practices such as forced adoption. But her story is well worth reading, both because it reminds us that these aspects of the past are not yet only confined to history, and because Flo herself has made her own life count despite the adversities she has experienced. Flo needed to discover her past, and we need to remember it.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

THE ESSENCE OF THE THING
THE ESSENCE OF THE THING
by MADELEINE ST.JOHN
Edition: Paperback
21 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘I went out last night to buy some cigarettes.’, May 21 2015
Nicola left the flat briefly to buy a packet of cigarettes, but when she returns her live-in boyfriend Jonathan tells her their relationship must end. Jonathan says that he no longer wants to be with her, and it would be best if she moved out. Disbelief is Nicola’s first reaction. Then, as realization sets in and her world falls apart, she is devastated. Nicola turns to her friends, particularly Susannah, for advice. While most think that Nicola would be better off without Jonathan, she isn’t convinced.

While this novel is the story of a relationship breakup, it has some very humorous aspects. The breakup of a relationship does not just affect the couple involved, it has an impact on friends and family as well. The friends (mostly couples) and parents of Jonathan and Nicola are each ready to offer their opinions.

'Let's say he's a prat. But he's the prat I love.' She paused. 'Actually, I've never been absolutely sure what prat means, exactly.’

Much of the story unfolds via conversation, with each chapter offering a different point of view. This enables us to appreciate the differing perspectives and, importantly, to see how Nicola and Jonathan react. It may have been Jonathan’s choice to end the relationship, but it soon becomes clear that Nicola is more able than Jonathan to move on. Has Jonathan made the right decision? Does he really want Nicola to move out of his life?

‘Too bad about the marmalade. The balance between bitter and sweet was the essence of the thing.’
In this short novel, Ms St John managed to dissect a particular relationship in order to demonstrate its numerous and various components. Control may start with Jonathan, but it certainly doesn’t stay with him. Friends and family members have views, but Nicola and Jonathan need to negotiate their own paths through it. I enjoyed this novel, with its flashes of humour and neat depictions of relationships and their perils.

‘The Essence of the Thing’ was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1997.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

The Alchemist's Daughter (Bianca Goddard Mystery)
The Alchemist's Daughter (Bianca Goddard Mystery)
Prix : CDN$ 9.99

1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘Imagine the worst possible outcome, then work backward.’, May 14 2015
It is 1543 in London, and Henry VIII is distracted by many things. He is courting Katherine Parr, is planning an invasion of France and his health is failing. For the ordinary people around Southwark, surrounded by poverty and greed, living in crowded slums with illness and disease constant threats, life is about survival. Bianca Goddard, the daughter of a notorious alchemist, uses her knowledge of herbs and medicinal plants to make her living by making medicines. She sells her medicines to the poor in the Southwark slums.

Plague is a near constant threat in Tudor London, and can spread rapidly. When a merchant ship is quarantined, there are rumours. And when outbreaks of pestilence spread, there’s an urgent demand for rat poison. Bianca’s friend Jolyn seeks her assistance for painful abdominal cramps, and dies suddenly after drinking tea at Bianca’s. Not surprisingly, Bianca is accused of murder. While Bianca believes that someone was poisoning Jolyn, Constable Patch believes Bianca responsible. Can Bianca find out how Jolyn was killed, and by whom?

Bianca, with the aid of her boyfriend John and the colourful Meddybemps, tries to find the truth. Is Jolyn’s death connected to her work for Mrs Beldam at Barke House? And why are so many people after Jolyn’s lucky ring? Bianca needs to investigate carefully and quickly: Constable Patch is determined to bring her to justice. She suggests jealousy as a motive, to which Constable Patch replies:

‘Another lover’, Patch groaned. ‘How pedestrian.’

I had trouble imagining Patch actually saying ‘How pedestrian’, but that’s okay. There are a number of different threads, a few red herrings and a lot of rats in this story. Ms Lawrence depicts the squalor and the hardship well. I can hear the rats(!) and smell the waste. The setting is well described, the story moves at a quick pace and while some aspects are less believable than others, Bianca Goddard is an interesting character. I understand that this is the first novel in a series of mysteries, and I’ll be looking out for the next one.

Note: I was offered, and accepted, an electronic copy of this novel for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Black Rock White City
Black Rock White City
Prix : CDN$ 13.46

5.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘Strange how little his body shows the evidence of his life.’, May 12 2015
Jovan and Suzana have escaped the horrors of Sarajevo by seeking refuge in Australia. For them, life in Melbourne is nothing like their old lives in pre-war Sarajevo: once academics, they are now both cleaners. Jovan cleans at a bayside hospital in Melbourne and Suzana cleans houses. The death of their two children in Sarajevo causes them both, in different ways, great pain.

During a hot Melbourne summer, Jovan finds his cleaning work disrupted by acts of graffiti in various places around the hospital. The cryptic and disturbing graffiti has an impact on Jovan, it reminds him of aspects of the past that he is trying to come to terms with. He cleans up, time after time, knowing that the graffitist (nicknamed Dr Graffito) is probably aware that Jovan is the cleaner. In the meantime, life moves along. Jovan keeps thinking he must replace the brake pads in his panel van before the brakes fail, and he feels considerable pain from toothache. Suzana cleans for people who seem to appreciate her services, but she knows there should be more to life. Jovan and Suzana are largely invisible to those around them, and many of their interactions (both with each other and with others) touch only on aspects of them as people. Their lives are not satisfying, and they long to recover what was important to them in the past.

‘The two worlds appear far apart. Sarajevo is across the seas, and as time goes by, the separating waters seem ever broader to Jovan and Suzana, yet the box, which they cannot open, and cannot close contains their Sarajevo lives.’

How can you make a new life in another country when your old life carries such pain? Is it possible to reclaim what is good and find peace from what is painful? Gradually we learn more about Jovan and Susana, about their lives and aspirations in Sarajevo, about their dreams for starting again in Australia. We see the scars of the past, and how they are (inadvertently or otherwise) rubbed raw by the unthinking actions of those around them. As if, somehow, the fact of being given refuge should nullify or neutralize the past.

‘A world of diminished men labouring without end, for no good reason, and a woman’s job thrown in there after them, somehow, however she might fit the shoes provided, broken crystal slipper or otherwise.’

I found this novel profoundly moving, as well as a reminder that human experiences are complex and layered. It reminded me as well as some uncomfortable aspects of Australia: assumptions about refugees and not taking the time to learn how to pronounce names. All part of a subconscious, or sometimes unconscious, process of differentiation. Jovan and Suzana are two people profoundly affected by war, but not (yet) destroyed by their experiences.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

The Morgenstern Project (Consortium Thriller Book 3)
The Morgenstern Project (Consortium Thriller Book 3)
Prix : CDN$ 9.99

4.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘War is horrible, but slavery is worse’ (Winston Churchill), May 8 2015
Jeremy Corbin, his wife Jacqueline Walls and their baby daughter Annie were living a quiet life in suburban New Jersey. Then, one day, a series of events shattered the calm and their friend Eytan Morgenstern saved them. Why is the group, known as the Consortium, after Jeremy and Jacqueline? And who is Eytan Morgenstern?

As the story unfolds, we learn more about Eytan Morgenstern and his past. It becomes clear that many people are interested in Eytan Morgenstern: his superhuman strength is one of the legacies of Nazi experimentation. The novel moves between past and present, between London, Tel Aviv, Poland and Manhattan. Eytan Morgenstern may have spent much of his life bringing Nazi war criminals to justice, but the threats to him personally have never been greater. Is it possible for Eytan Morgenstern to break free of the past - can Jeremy and Jacqueline help him?

It’s difficult to review this novel without introducing spoilers, although I’m trying to resist that. It’s also the third novel in a series, and I’ve yet to read the first two books. Suffice to say that there is plenty of action, and sometimes the distinction between the good guys and the bad guys is not easy to make. This is a fast moving thriller which draws on some of the atrocities of World War II as providing some potential for current military aspirations. Individuals are not important in this world, except, perhaps as vehicles for (or recipients of) the science behind strength.
While I intend to read the other books in the series (The Bleiberg Project and The Shiro Project) at some stage, The Morgenstern Project is sufficiently self-contained to be read as a standalone novel.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Le French Book for an opportunity to read this novel.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Hunger Town
Hunger Town
Prix : CDN$ 7.19

5.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘Those furtive shadowy figures, gliding along the wharf or scurrying like rats seeking a hole to hide themselves,.., May 7 2015
This review is from: Hunger Town (Kindle Edition)
haunted my childhood.’

This is a novel about the times and impacts of the Great Depression in Australia (from 1929 until well into the 1930s). The novel is set in Port Adelaide, and the central character is Judith Larsen who was living with her parents on a coal hulk on the Port River. Judith is a child when she sees men so hungry that they swim out into the river to try to retrieve bread scraps thrown to seagulls. She sees, too, how men use newspaper to pad their clothes against the cold. Judith had little opportunity for formal education and, when her father’s income as a winchman on the wharves is reduced as a consequence of changes to hiring practices, she leaves school to work in the Chew It café. Australia’s political landscape is changing, as unemployment and hunger provide a fertile breeding ground for those seeking to change society and to manage it differently.

‘He could play anything on the piano and he could dance and box but now had to earn his living in a hot dirty foundry.’

Judith falls in love with Harry Grenville, a talented piano player who is attracted to the ideals of the Communist Party. Judith herself, thanks to a benefactor in the form of Joe Pulham at the Working Men’s Club, is able to attend Art School and makes her own social commentary in the form of satirical cartoons.

‘I flushed. This was charity. We all struggled against it.’

Judith and Harry marry, and Harry’s commitment to the Communist Party leads him on a fact-finding mission to Spain - just before the Spanish Civil War erupts into a massacre of leftist sympathisers. Harry disappears, and Judith sets off for Europe to try to find him.

‘It was a peculiar shifting from one world into another, as is traipsing out of bright sunshine into darkness.’

I found this novel totally engrossing. I remember my grandparents speaking of the Great Depression, which struck when they were newly married in Tasmania. My grandfather said that he’d eaten so much rhubarb during that period that he could never eat it again. Members of my grandmother’s family joined the Communist Party in the hope that communism could redress the inequities they saw. There was a belief, too, in the importance of unions to support workers in their struggles. I’ve read quite a bit about the Great Depression, but generally in relation to Sydney, or Tasmania. In this novel, which manages to cover many different aspects of the Great Depression, to weave fiction around the facts (such as the Beef Riot in Adelaide in 1931), the social and political unrest of the times, the impacts on individuals become clear. Reminders of the ‘susso’ (the so called sustenance payments) that originated during the Great Depression. By 1932, more than 60,000 people depended on sustenance payments, which were intended for those who were truly destitute, who’d been unemployed for a long period of time and who had no assets or savings.

‘But that afternoon my thoughts strayed to an idea of a generation of young people lost in time. I had a vision of them all sitting around in a railway waiting room, hoping for a train to take them somewhere, anywhere.’

While ‘Hunger Town’ is in part a love story, it’s the portrayal of the tenacity and courage of so many individuals that caught and held my attention. It’s a reminder too, of the hardships experienced by those generations whose experience of life was shaped by the economic depression between the two world wars.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

YOUR Heart & Mind: 11 Tools To Improve Your State of Being, for Yourself & Others
YOUR Heart & Mind: 11 Tools To Improve Your State of Being, for Yourself & Others
Prix : CDN$ 3.73

4.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘Just like nature, an ocean in particular, each person is unique and special.’, April 28 2015
In this short book, South African author C.J. Maritz identifies what he considers to be the eleven core aspects of self. If we know and understand these core aspects, then we have the tools and insights we need in order to live more meaningful lives. Those eleven core aspects are:
1. Reality
2. Integrity
3. Character
4. Originality
5. Freedom
6. Knowledge
7. Consciousness
8. Conscience
9. Personal growth
10. Progression, and
11. Better state

Mr Maritz reminds us that it is never too late to make positive changes. And by changing our behaviours by focussing on importance rather than appearance, it is much more likely that we will find contentment, and a better state of being. Identifying and working on the core aspects will enable us to become more self-aware and have greater self-knowledge.

‘May you enjoy forming your own views during the reading experience.’

I found little new in this book, however I found myself drawn to the ocean as a simile for self (perhaps it’s an element of Piscean self-recognition). I like the reminder that each of us is able to make a positive difference to our own lives by being more self-aware, by being more conscious of the world around us and by focussing on substance over appearance.

Would I recommend this book? Yes - if you are looking for reinforcement that you are responsible for your own life and have access to the skills, tools and insights necessary to improve it. No - if you are looking for or need detailed examples of how this approach works for others.

Truly, you have the tools, it’s all in the mind.

Note: My thanks to C J Maritz and Netgalley for an opportunity to read and review this book.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Watson's Pier
Watson's Pier
Prix : CDN$ 16.81

5.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘Gallipoli. Gallipoli was a fiasco. It was a sideshow to the war.’, April 27 2015
This review is from: Watson's Pier (Kindle Edition)
Stanley Holm Watson (1887-1985) was one of the first ashore at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915, and amongst the last to leave on the night of the 19-20th December 2015. The withdrawal from Gallipoli used the pier at Anzac Cove which Watson had built and which provides the title for the book, written by Watson’s great-grandson, Joshua Funder.

‘One Christmas, when I was a small boy, I sat with my brother at the feet of our great-grandfather, Stanley Watson, to hear his account of Gallipoli.’

Sixty-two years after leaving Gallipoli, Stanley Holm travels to Melbourne on a slow train to spend Christmas with his family. He was then aged 90, and it was the account of him shaving with a cutthroat razor whilst on the train that reminded me of my own grandfather, also at Gallipoli, and who was also still using a cutthroat razor until he died aged 80. From that point on, I was spellbound.

‘The war. It was horrible. All the mud and shells and gas.’

This book is a blend of fact and fiction. Joshua Funder states that the events closely follow the historical accounts in Charles Bean’s ‘Official War History’ and in Stanley Watson’s ‘Gallipoli: Sapper Signalmen’. These historical accounts provide the framework for Joshua Funder’ s account of his great-grandfather’s life, for his experiences of Gallipoli. While Gallipoli is the major focus of the book, Stanley Holm’s long life (he was 97 when he died), it is not the only aspect of his life covered.

There’s an account of Stanley Watson’s return to the Gallipoli peninsula in 1977, of his consciousness of what actually happened there in contrast to how it might have been:

‘It had taken Watson more than sixty years and less than two hours to conquer the peninsula.’

And yes, there are mentions of the mistakes made, including (is it fact, or fiction?) that the Anzacs were disembarked at the wrong destination. There’s mention, too, of the bravery, of the disease, fear and injury that was so much a part of the Gallipoli experience.

‘Even in an army, each man has to fight his own battle.’

I read this book, not so much concerned about differentiating fact from fiction or in trying to ascertain what went wrong. I read this book because it enabled me to get a sense of what these men experienced. My grandfather never spoke of his war experiences, never wore his medals and never returned to Gallipoli. But for a short while, thanks to a 90 year old man using a cutthroat razor to shave whilst on a train, I felt some sense of his experience.

This book does not glorify war, not is it a romantic accounting of the Gallipoli legend. It is about one man’s experiences and the impacts on his family. It’s a story worth reading, and remembering.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Melbourne University Publishing for an opportunity to read this book.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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